Montesquieu would be one of the first but not last theoreticians of decline and fall into decadence and decay of modern progressive society. For Montesquieu, the slow disintegration of the Roman Empire was not to be seen as a series of unhappy accidents, but as the inevitable unfolding of a pattern governed by a quasi-scientific law. Rome, it was henceforth accepted, had fallen because all empires must fall, and the map of that fall – which was also to serve as an explanation – was to be found in its décadence
: in the simultaneous rotting of its cultural life and its military might.
In this sense we’ve seen in our time the end of the universalist pretentions of the Enlightenment Era and its primary ideal of Social Progress. Instead we’ve seen the slow decay and decadence of modern societies and cultures of the European and American enclaves begin to fragment and lose control in a world that teeters on the edge of economic, political, military, climacteric and pathological collapse and decay. Ours is the age of disintegration in which it is no longer a threat of the barbarians without but of those within the very sanctity of our fraying socious who are tearing the social body into a million shreds. Ours is a sociopathic society that has entered the last stages of sclerosis, the cancer is everywhere and like the zombies of George Romero’s classic film we are feeding off the last vestiges of this ancient body like mindless appetites gone bunkoes. A culture of distraction, entertainment, and Reality TV. A narcissistic culture that explores the egoist limits of its decadent superficialness in the extreme mode of Selfies that collapse body into digital hives, a mirrored complex of endless clones and avatars running rampant in the anon world of farcical trolldom.
At the core of style is not only a mastery of language, but the deeper and more subtle appreciation of those dark contours of the affective heart, the powers and dispositions of the depths and hinterlands of psyche that intellect and reason disdain to accept within their dire and sparkling regions. And, yet, it is the subtle gradients of emotive worlds, the inscapes of thought resounding instinctual longings and fears, dread and terror that awaken us from the cage of time and give us back again that ancient power of desire that seeks not only solace in each other but the capacity to revolt against the spell of death as civilization confines us within the precincts of its reasonable obsolescence. Imaginative literature has one goal, to awaken us to alternatives, to visions of other realms and dimensions, unexplored possibilities and uncharted regions of the impossible. It forces us to challenge the status quo, to rebel against the staid messages of the media tyrants who would keep you in the iron prison of this fixed moment, tied to the chains of capitalist necessity like gold fish in a bowl repeating only the gestures of an insane world or pure repetition.
C.L. Moore along with Clark Ashton Smith were two of the underappreciated stylists of the twentieth century. Both followed the patterns of decadence and symbolist literature, and both dabbled in the speculative fantasy of pulp worlds, and yet they above all gave us that liquid speed of rhetoric that sounds a certain outer aspect of things unbidden. As one critic reminds us these two who followed both Baudelaire and Poe, who nourished themselves on the Symbolist critique of culture, whom criticism itself, however, has superciliously refused to admit to what goes by the name of the canon. “It is a pity, because Clark Ashton Smith (1893 – 1961) and Catherine Louise Moore (1911 – 1987), despite having published most of their work in the lurid pulp monthly Weird Tales, were incisive observers of social conditions and civilizational trends; they were also accomplished stylists, worthy of their precursor-models, Poe and Baudelaire. By including them under the rubric of “the bohemian theory of decadence,” the discussion honors the Baudelairean spirit, which disdains to confine itself in vetted precincts, or to despise what correctness disdains, preferring rather to find truth where it is.” 1